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Davis, California

Sunday, April 21, 2024

Aggie defense makes strides

In UC Davis’ home-opening 88-59 win over UC Santa Cruz, the Aggies put on an offensive and defensive clinic.

The Aggies out-rebounded the Banana Slugs 50-32, forced 23 turnovers and four players scored in double figures.

This week’s games were a different story with each contest coming down to the wire. First, the UC Davis hosted North Dakota State, a 2009 NCAA Tournament team.

On Saturday, the team traveled to Muncie, Ind. to take on the Ball State Cardinals.

Tuesday-North Dakota State 63, UC Davis 62

With last season’s NCAA Tournament qualifier North Dakota State coming into the Pavilion, UC Davis figured it was going to getting some tough competition.

The game did not start out that way as 12 points from senior center Dominic Calegari helped the Aggies jump out to a 17-2 lead through the first five minutes of the game.

The Bison showed why it was a postseason team last year as it pushed back, going on a 15-0 run midway through the first half get within two points at the break.

“Tonight we had a good start, but we had a lull there,” said coach Gary Stewart. “You can’t pick and choose when to ramp it up.”

The Aggies saw their first half lead evaporate and played most of the second half from behind, trailing by as many as eight.

A late 7-0 run by the Aggies brought the score to 63-62, but they were unable to capitalize on two possessions in the final 12 seconds, turning the ball over each time.

While the Aggies struggled in the second half, Calegari claimed the Aggies’ problems began in the first half.

“We need to play hard for the full 40 minutes,” he said. “I’ve never seen that since I’ve been here. I feel like people save themselves for later in the game. That’s not the winner’s mentality. You’re going to get tired no matter what.”

The Aggies have employed a high-energy 1-3-1 zone defense for most of this season.

The defense forces a high number of turnovers, but can be tiring which is why depth is key to its success, according to Stewart.

Calegari scored 23 points and Mark Payne had 15 points and 4 assists.

Saturday – UC Davis 60, Ball State 58

After letting the Bison shoot 65 percent in the second half and 58 percent for the game, the Aggies had what Stewart called their toughest practices of the season.

It paid off big time.

The Aggies forced 16 turnovers, held the Cardinals to 37 percent shooting and allowed just six field goals in the second half.

“[Our defense] was outstanding,” Stewart said. “We played the best defense we played all year. They didn’t make a field goal after the 8:19 mark. You’re going to be in a lot games when you do that.”

The improvement on defense can be attributed to multiple factors, according to Stewart.

“We are getting a better understanding of our rotations and what we’re able to do in the defense itself,” Stewart said. “We understood our assignments better as it related to their personnel. We did a better job of identifying shooters earlier.”

Calegari led all scorers with 24 points on 5-of-7 shooting from beyond the arc and hauled in seven rebounds before fouling out.

Joe Harden had 17 points and nine rebounds while Mark Payne scored 11 points and dished out seven assists.

While Calegari made strides to work on his game inside the paint, he still possesses the touch from three-point land, an asset that will serve the Aggies well this season and present problems for opponents.

“He’s extremely versatile,” Stewart said. “You don’t see people with his skill set. He’s a tough matchup. If you put a big on him he’s able to step out and hit a three. If you put a small on him he’ll post up. He’s playing with the wherewithal of a senior.”

RICHARD PROCTER can be reached at sports@theaggie.org.


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